AB InBev to cut 10 percent of Belgian jobs

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BRUSSELS (AP) — Sinking beer sales in Belgium are forcing Anheuser-Busch InBev SA to cut nearly 10 percent of the jobs in its home country, the company said Thursday.

The world’s largest brewer said it was reorganizing operations to meet lower demand and would shed up to 303 workers in Belgium.

Belgians on average now drink 20 percent less beer by volume than they did in 2000, the company said.

“Even though beer has traditionally proved one of the most resistant products in less prosperous economic times, our industry isn’t immune to the general economic climate,” it said in a statement.

AB InBev said Belgian consumers also were increasingly turning to premium brands or novelty beers — and quitting bars to drink beer at home or elsewhere. The company’s beer volumes fell 1.7 percent in the country in the first nine months of 2009.

These changes call on the company to adapt to “slimmer and more flexible” ways of making, selling and distributing beer, the company said. That means cutting up to 189 jobs — and warning that another 114 are at risk.

However, the company also said it was shutting a Luxembourg brewery and opening a new sales call center with 40 new jobs at its headquarters in Leuven, Belgium.

Trade unions will be consulted before any final decision on job cuts, it said.

AB-InBev makes the world’s best-selling beer Budweiser alongside Belgian favorites Stella Artois, Leffe and Jupiler. It currently employs 2,700 people in Belgium.

Based in the Belgian university town of Leuven, the company has promised to keep its base there amid fears that it might move its global headquarters to the United States after its $52 billion takeover of Anheuser-Busch in 2008.

However, a New York office will now take on some of management of global operations, leaving St. Louis in charge of the North American business. The U.S. now generates some 40 percent of the company’s earnings.